Schools must be able to exclude pupils who have attacked teachers or sexually abused pupils, the leader of the UK’s largest teaching union has said.
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said the sanction must be available – but she said excluded pupils should be “reintegrated into mainstream education as soon as possible”.
Her comments came after delegates at the NEU’s virtual annual conference called on the union’s executive to campaign for “a moratorium on exclusions in the wake of the pandemic”.
The motion, which was passed by delegates, called for exclusion to be “reduced” and “ultimately ended”.
The decision sparked anger among a number of education leaders including the Department for Education’s (DfE) lead behaviour adviser Tom Bennett.
Mr Bennett tweeted: “A teacher union *must not* campaign on a platform of banning exclusions. This would be a disaster for the safety of children and staff.”
It came after thousands of testimonials have been made by students documenting sexual harassment and assault in schools and colleges.
In a speech to the NEU’s annual conference, Dr Bousted said: “The Everyone’s Invited website, with thousands of testimonies from girls and young women, show the shocking extent of sexual harassment and sexual violence perpetrated against girls and young women in schools and colleges and universities.
“I have read the testimonies. They are heart-breaking and shaming.
“And in those cases – and in cases where teachers and support staff are physically attacked while doing their job – we believe that the sanction of exclusion must still be available if that is the correct sanction to keep the victims safe, and to keep boys who are viciously bullied or attacked safe.”
A motion supported by NEU delegates on Thursday called on the union to “campaign for a fully inclusive, properly funded education service where exclusion is reduced, ultimately ended, and a moratorium on exclusions in the wake of the pandemic.”
The NEU’s annual conference heard about the rising numbers of exclusions, particularly among black pupils, while some academy chains were accused of having “draconian” behaviour policies.
Addressing the debate in a speech to delegates, Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: “We want to see root and branch reform of our education system and a huge reduction in exclusions, particularly a reduction in the exclusion of black boys who are six times more likely than their white peers to be excluded in some areas.
“This is a running sore in our education system and it needs to be healed.”
Dr Bousted added: “But Conference we also believe that you do not intend that girls who have been raped in schools and colleges, girls who have been sexually harassed in schools and colleges, will be required to remain in a classroom or walk down a crowded corridor with the perpetrator of that rape or that sexual harassment.”
She said: “What is important, surely, is that no child or young person is ever excluded from education.
“If a school or a college ceases to be the best place for that young person, then the alternative provision provided for them must be excellent, must enable them to progress in their education and in their personal and social development and must enable them to be reintegrated into mainstream education as soon as possible. Conference that is the interpretation that we will use.”
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